Health Matters – Sunny Days

Dear Dr. Katie,

I worry about sunscreen every summer. I know It’s important to use it to prevent skin cancer, but are the (unpronounceable) ingredients in sunscreen okay for me and my young children?


Dear Angela,

You aren’t alone in the sunscreen dilemma?many of us have similar questions. Although the majority of ingredients in sunscreen were originally classified as ?safe? by the FDA, recent research seems to show differently. Let’s start by looking at what’s typically found in commercially available sunscreen.


Oxybenzene absorbs the sun’s ultraviolet rays, but It’s a definite no-no for anyone looking for a healthier sunscreen. Recent research shows that oxybenzene is absorbed through the skin, causing hormone disruption and cell damage.

Another questionable ingredient is retinyl palmitate. A form of vitamin A, It’s actually been demonstrated to induce skin cancer in mice. Although these results have yet to be duplicated in humans, some prefer to avoid it entirely.

Some sunscreens contain zinc or titanium oxide as a substitute for oxybenzene. These act as physical barriers to sunlight, reflecting the light away from your skin and minimizing the chance of sunburn. For sun protection, zinc is a healthier choice than oxybenzene.

Octyl methoxycinnamate is a common UVB-filtering ingredient, but like oxybenzene, It’s not the best choice for your skin. In fact, skin absorption of this chemical has been correlated with premature skin aging, definitely an unpleasant side effect.

The SPF Connection

What is the SPF (sun protection factor) of your sunscreen? Although a very high SPF (like 50 or 85) sounds like better protection than a more moderate SPF rating, That’s not necessarily the case. In fact, once the rating hits 30, the protection level does not increase significantly. For instance, an SPF of 15 usually blocks 93 per cent of UVB rays, and an SPF of 30 blocks 97 per cent; but an SPF of 50 only blocks 98 per cent of UVB rays. In other words, a very high SPF, with associated higher levels of toxic chemical ingredients, may not be worth it from a health perspective.

The Dilemma

So what should you do? Sunscreen is important if you’ll be outdoors, since sun damage can predispose you to skin cancer. Even on a milder scale, sun-damaged skin leads to premature aging. Using a sunscreen is not harmful in and of itself; rather, It’s the ingredients that can cause health concerns. Fortunately, in the last few years, several ?natural? sunscreens have appeared on the market. These can be purchased at your local health food store and at some grocery or department stores as well.

For more information on the healthiest sunscreens available, check out this report by the Environmental Working Group.

Dr. Katie D?Souza, ND

Katie D’Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.